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Sister ships: BRETAGNE, LORRAINE
Notes: Authorized under the 1912 Programme, the BRETAGNE class had the same hull and dimensions of the preceding COURBET class (mainly due to the lack of construction facilities to build larger ships); however, the main battery was increased in size (from 12" to 13.4", and with all turrets mounted on the centerline, the same number of guns could be brought to bear in a broadside. They were particularly well designed, with much attention paid to weapon placement and command and control equipment; however, underwater protection was relatively weak. The BRETAGNE class were noted as very wet ships, and they had a much shorter radius of action then most of their contemporaries. Also, since the main guns were only capable of 12° of elevation, they were relatively short ranged, capable of firing to about 15,000 yards. However, they were regarded as excellent weapons; at maximum range, the dispersal of a salvo was noted as being approximately 100 yards!¹ The BRETAGNE class were the most powerful units in the French Fleet from their acceptance in 1916, until the arrival of the DUNKERQUE class in 1938.
PROVENCE was commissioned in 1916 as Fleet Flagship; she served in that role until 1919. During a refit in 1922-23, a modification to the main battery was carried out, which increased their elevation to 18° and their range to nearly 22,000 yards. Also, additional rangefinders and searchlights were added. Another refit in 1926-27 increased the elevation of the main battery to 23°, further increasing their range to over 24,000 yards. A third major rebuild in 1932-35 improved protection, replaced the original boilers with new oil-burning, small tube boilers, replaced the 13.4" guns with "new" ones, originally built for the cancelled NORMANDIE class; eight of the 5.4" guns were removed, and the anti-aircraft battery was augmented. Up until the fall of France during World War II (on 22 June 1940), PROVENCE saw limited action. However, when France was defeated, PROVENCE (along with much of the French Navy) was based at locations away from France. Unsure of what would happen to those ships, and with the fear that they might fall into German hands and be used against their former allies, the Royal Navy sortied against the major units of the French Fleet. PROVENCE was damaged by British gunfire at Mers-el-Kebir on 3 July 1940, and she sank upright in shallow water. She was raised and brought to Toulon for repairs. PROVENCE was scuttled at Toulon in November, 1942, as German forces moved into the port. On 11 July 1943, she was raised by German forces; they removed two of her 13.4" guns and installed them in a coastal battery near Toulon. In 1944, PROVENCE was scuttled again, this time by the Germans, as a blockship. She was raised again in 1949 and broken up.
¹WARSHIP, Vol. 10 (Number 39), "The French Dreadnoughts: The 23,500-ton BRETAGNE class" by Dumas, Robert; p. 165. See Bibliography for further details.